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Digital Project Explores Race, Inclusion at Ursinus

Building upon efforts to create a digital archive of Ursinus history, Patricia Lott, an assistant professor African American and Africana Studies, is working with students to reflect on issues of race and equity at the college.

The project is an outgrowth of Lott’s “Race and the University” course taught during the fall 2018 semester and will conclude with a final digital exhibit on Omeka, Ursinus’s digital history repository, during Ursinus’s 150th anniversary this fall.

The course, which Lott may again teach during the fall of 2019, explores the entanglements of racism and American higher education beginning with the founding of the country’s first collegiate institutions and from slavery to segregation, the civil rights movement and current national challenges in promoting diversity and inclusion.

“A lot of colleges and universities have been doing these types of projects and I thought that it was timely to do something like this at Ursinus,” Lott says. “Diversity and inclusion have been an important part of shaping our core values at Ursinus and I think it’s important to do a self-assessment and look at our history, while also shaping our trajectory for the future.”

Students in the fall 2018 course helped create a foundation for the work with research projects on Ursinus’s Crigler program—which offers first-year students of color a four-credit course during the summer before their first semester at the college and is named for W. Robert Crigler ’56, Ursinus’s first African American graduate—and on Unity House, once home to the college’s Office of Multicultural Services.

“I think it is extremely important to research and collect knowledge about the significance of Unity House and Crigler Institute,” says Cynthia Ercole ’21, a psychology major who is minoring in African American and Africana studies and one of the students who worked with Lott on the project. “Taking part in creating a digital archive of race at Ursinus, we were able to provide appropriate historical context about what is important for us to document and remember. By including history that has promoted the racial equity of our college, we can look back at Ursinus within a lens in which progressive actions took place shaped by the people of color who made such programs available.”

This spring, Lott is building on the work by researching the history of race, diversity and inclusion at Ursinus from the college’s founding in 1869 through Crigler’s graduation from the college, and students this fall will continue the work through present day.

“We’re going to look more broadly using the Ursinusiana collection, working closely with [college archivist] Carolyn Weigel and [metadata librarian] Andy Prock to find more information about the college’s history from 1869,” says Lott, who is also enlisting the help of instructional library technician Christine Iannicelli to find most suitable and visually compelling home for the digital project.

At the conclusion of the fall 2019 semester, Lott plans to unveil the digital project and schedule at least one campus-wide sesquicentennial event.

“In many ways, digitization allows dissemination of the work to a broader and more diverse public,” Lott says. “It will be important to share this research so that not only current students can see it, but so that it has a broad reach for alumni, former faculty and staff, the community and beyond.” —By Ed Moorhouse